“[Hunger is an] impenetrable independence [that] leaves us quite literally unable to break bread and connect with the other people in our orbit”
– Fiona Wright, Small Acts of Disappearance
Small Acts of Disappearance describes the author’s affliction with an eating disorder which begins in university and escalates into life-threatening anorexia over the next ten years. Fiona Wright is a highly regarded poet and critic, and her account of her illness is informed by a keen sense of its contradictions and deceptions, and by an awareness of the empowering effects of hunger, which is unsparing in its consideration of the author’s motives and actions.
The essays offer perspectives on the eating disorder at different stages in Wright’s life: at university, where she finds herself in a radically different social world to the one she grew up in, in Sri Lanka as a fledgling journalist, in Germany as a young writer, in her hospital treatments back in Sydney. They combine travel writing, memoir and literary discussions of how writers like Christina Stead, Carmel Bird, Tim Winton, John Berryman and Louise Glück deal with anorexia and addiction; together with accounts of family life, the observation of detail and the humour which is so compelling in Wright’s poetry.
Small Acts of Disappearance is a collection of essays exploring Wright’s struggle with an eating disorder over the different stages of her life – from being a student in Germany, working as a journalist in Sri Lanka and being home in Australia. The collection is made up of different genres – research, travel writing, memoir and literary discussion – each adding to Wright’s depiction of addiction and illness.
Anorexia is no easy topic to talk about; is is a disease of contradictions, being both brutally isolating and intimate at the same time. Wright’s gentle writing style yet obvious intensity makes for an interesting read. She moves between the genres to make sense of herself and the greater world. The combination of interior thought versus exterior observations allows the reader to really connect with her. Hunger is the main focus of Wright’s essays; hunger being a physical and mental state that can be controlled. Anorexia blurs the line between body and mind, an addictive space where hunger sharpens the senses and the sufferer becomes hyper-aware – a state that can appear desirable for many different reasons. Controlling starvation is a long-term addiction and one Wright didn’t label as anorexia due to her own misconceptions of the illness. She says she wasn’t like ‘other women’; she didn’t like being thin.
The essay I found most interesting was ‘In Miniature’. In this, Wright explores our obsession with smallness; why we find ‘fun’ sized so appealing. The irony of small things is that they occupy space differently. The smaller something is, the more unusual it becomes. For people with anorexia, the desire to be less physically conspicuous only draws more attention to the physical self. Smallness is thought to be neat and contained.
Although Wright resisted writing about her illness for a long time, the end result is a book that is clear, and easy to read. Her writing style is enjoyable and she allows the reader a great insight into her illness and life. She doesn’t come across as overly critical or judgmental, merely seeking to understand. Illness and recovery are chaotic and inconsistent however the flow of this book – while it doesn’t follow one linear path – never feels confusing or unclear. It feels wrong to say I enjoyed this book (given the gravity of the content) however I found it to be a really insightful, intelligent and interesting read.
AUTHOR: Fiona Wright
PUBLISHER: Giramondo Publishing
PUB DATE: September 2015
Thank you to Giramondo Publishing for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!